Urban Forest Inquiry

The Environment, Resources and Development Committee of the South Australian Parliament has published an Interim Report for its Urban Forest inquiry containing 13 Recommendations for regulatory change to better acknowledge the value of trees, to provide better protection for existing trees and to support tree planting.

The Parliamentary Urban Forest Inquiry began in 2022, and has as it’s terms of reference examine:
* Best practice and innovative measures to assist in the selection and maintenance of site appropriate tree species to improve the resilience of the urban forest, with a focus on trees for urban infill developments;
* Legislative and regulatory options to improve the resilience and longevity of trees comprising the urban forest; and
* Any other related matters.

Fact Sheet 1 from the Urban Forest Inquiry can found at static1.squarespace.com.

Summary list of recommendations

The Environment, Resources and Development committee has devised 13 interim recommendations around the following themes:
* Exemption distances
* Species exemptions
* Trunk size
* Canopy cover
* Fee for legal tree removal
* Fee for illegal tree removal
* Tree removal fund, and
* Community-based tree protection.

Exemption distances

Recommendation 1: Remove the exemption to allow removal of any tree within 10 metres of a residential dwelling or swimming pool within the Greater Adelaide area.
Applications for tree removal on this basis should be made to the relevant authority with a determination to be made based on merit. Reasonable grounds for removal may include:
* Existing or imminent risk to property, infrastructure, or people
* The lack of any alternative, achievable solutions despite thorough investigation of such
options (e.g. building around tree, pruning, tree replacement).

Recommendation 1a: If recommendation 1 is not adopted, it is recommended that exemption distances should:

1. only be applied where a dwelling or pool is in place at the time of the application for tree removal and will remain in place thereafter. That is, an applicant can’t remove a tree if the dwelling/pool will be imminently removed or has already been removed.
2. only apply to the property on which the trunk is predominantly located, that is, neighbours cannot insist on tree removal on land that it not owned by them.

Species exemptions

Recommendation 2: Form a specialist panel to review the current species exemption list and advise the Minister on:
* Pest and dangerous species to remain on the list,
* The removal of unwarranted species from the list, and
* The period of regular review of the list and method by which this review is conducted.

When providing advice, the panel of the Urban Forest Inquiry should also consider local implications and the impact on total private canopy if common species are allowed to be destroyed easily.

The panel should include experts with specialist knowledge about tree species (such as those the fields of botany, environmental science, horticulture and arboriculture).

Recommendation 3: Provide adequate funding for increased research into identifying resilient future species for private and public land in metropolitan Adelaide.

Trunk size

Recommendation 4: Tighten the definition of regulated and significant trees to better align with national standards, by significantly reducing the trunk circumference definition of both regulated and significant trees.
The Committee recommends reducing the trunk circumference for regulated trees to 1 metre (down from 2 metres) and the trunk circumference for significant trees to 2 metres (down from 3 metres).

Note: The same method of calculating the circumference should continue to apply. Canopy Cover

Recommendation 5: Strengthen the protection of urban trees by widening the definition of significant and regulated trees to include canopy cover measurement, as well as trunk circumference.
Introduce canopy cover criteria to the definition of regulated and significant trees, bringing SA into line with national standards.

A tree would be classified as regulated or protected based on fulfilling one or both of the criteria, that is, trunk circumference or canopy spread. These canopy spread distances and the method of calculation should be based on expert advice to the Minister, drawing on interstate approaches.

Fee for legal tree removal

Recommendation 6: Greatly increase the fee for legally removing a tree on a residential
property within the Greater Adelaide metropolitan area:
* From $326 per regulated tree to $3000, and
* From $489 per significant tree to $4000.

Recommendation 6a: That the Government further assess options allowing residents to enter an agreement with the relevant authority to replace the removed trees at a minimum 3:1 ratio on the land under strict conditions, in lieu of payment of the fee. If the agreement is not fulfilled, it is suggested a fine would apply of twice the above amounts.

Recommendation 7: Introduce a new discrete penalty for illegally removing tree/s or conducting illegal tree damaging activities on a property within the greater Adelaide metropolitan area, with the penalty amount set ten times (10x) greater than the fee for legally removing a tree (as per Recommendation 6).

Recommendation 7a: The Local Government Minister reviews the tree removal and tree damaging laws under the Local Government Act 1999.

Urban Forest Fund

Recommendation 8: A new Urban Forest Fund is set up (separate to the Planning and
Development Fund) solely for money raised from legal and illegal tree removal.

Recommendation 9: That proceeds from the Urban Forest Fund are spent on initiatives to grow the urban canopy, proximate to the area where the tree removal has occurred.

Recommendation 10: An annual report is provided to both Houses of Parliament by the Planning Minister on the Urban Forest Fund including:
* How many trees are legally and illegally removed resulting in payment to the fund
* How many trees were replaced using funds from the Urban Forest Fund
* The localities from which trees were removed and replaced
* The total income and expenditure from the Fund, and
* Any reported failures to pay into the Fund. Community-based tree protection.

Recommendation 11: Boost funding for community-based tree planting and maintenance initiatives, and additional government funding for community-based initiatives that increase the urban canopy. Councils should be required to prove schemes are resulting in retention and/or new plantings. Such programs might include providing free or low-cost saplings, tree health reports and maintenance for residents seeking to preserve mature trees.

Recommendation 12: Allow community and non-government groups to bid for funds from the Planning and Development Fund for open green space and tree retention projects, not just councils.

Recommendation 13: Significantly fund Arbor Day across South Australia. Funding should be aimed at improving community awareness about the important role of trees to our environment and lifestyle and the dangers of tree loss. Funding should be available for community activities that promote these aims.

Further community education to raise awareness of the value of the urban canopy and investment in vital research are also recommended.

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